Sarcoma is a form of cancer that comprises about 1% of all diagnoses. Because of its extreme rarity, it is often underfunded and relatively unknown, giving it the name the “Forgotten Cancer.”
In July, the Sarcoma Foundation of America (SFA) celebrates Sarcoma Awareness Month to bring awareness to a disease underrepresented in research. It affects the connective tissue in the body, like muscles, fat, blood vessels, nerves, and bone, with most found in the arms and legs. Although there are more than 50 different subtypes, most fall into two categories: soft tissue and bone, also known as osteosarcoma. Between the two types, only about 14,000 cases are diagnosed annually, with osteosarcoma the rarer of the two, accounting for less than 1,000.
Sarcomas are often not diagnosed quickly because most forms originate deep within the body. However, if caught early enough, most are incredibly treatable. The SFA estimates that approximately 20% of cases are curable by surgery, and another 30% can be treated effectively with surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or a mixture of all three.
In addition, survival rates are promising with early detection. For localized cases, which comprise approximately 60% of all diagnoses, five-year survival rates are more than 80%. Like with most cancers, the five-year survival rate dips to 56% and 16%, respectively, when the disease progresses toward the advanced or metastatic stages.
There are few risk factors for sarcomas, most from intense radiation or toxic chemicals. A noteworthy few include exposure to phenoxyacetic acid in herbicides, chlorophenols in wood preservatives, and radiation for other forms of cancer.
However, many cases haven’t come from exposure to any risk factors. In addition, it doesn’t discriminate between men and women, although the disease disproportionately impact younger people. Half of the people diagnosed with it are under 60, with bone and joint sarcomas very prominent amongst children and teenagers.
Currently, there is very little research on “Forgotten Cancer.” The best way to bring greater understanding to sarcoma is to make the public aware of it. So, this July, continue to learn about this underrepresented disease and consider donating to the SFA.